Hikes in Stanislaus National Forest

Region in California, United States

Encompassing the entirety of the Emigrant Wilderness and portions of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness and the Mokelumne Wilderness, there is an extensive network of backcountry routes for you to enjoy. So whether you are seeking a relaxing nature walk along the Clavey River or a technical climb up Sonora Mountain—the Stanislaus National Forest delivers. Explore the area’s diversity of flora and fauna, and revel in the beauty of the Sierra Nevada in the Stanislaus National Forest.

The 10 Best Hiking Routes in the Stanislaus National Forest

As self-proclaimed hiking aficionados, we have curated a list of the greatest hikes in the Stanislaus National Forest, from high country treks to enchanting forest trails—we’ve got you covered. Check out our favorite hikes!

  1. Kennedy Meadows to Relief Reservoir Trail - There is no question as to why the Kennedy Meadows to Relief Reservoir Trail is at the top of most hiking ranks in the Stanislaus National Forest. Wander past several waterfalls, natural pools, and granite rock formations to the reservoir and dam—this trek is unparalleled in its beauty.
  2. Highland Lakes Loop - Indulge yourself in the stunning views of two shimmering alpine lakes and the imposing Sierra Nevada Mountains along the Highland Lakes Loop. This short but scenic hike exposes mesmerizing vistas and offers ideal fishing opportunities.
  3. God’s Bath Clavey River Trail - The God’s Bath Clavey River Trail is an epic expedition that delivers waterfalls, rock sculptures, and swimming holes. This adventure is best enjoyed in the summer months when the alpine waters are refreshing and not frigid.
  4. Lake Alpine Trail - Explore the picturesque alpine reservoir along the Lake Alpine Trail. This fun-family adventure boasts beautiful scenes of the shimmering waters, bounding forestlands, and looming granite peaks.
  5. Boulder Lake Hike - Yet another alpine lake to indulge in. The Boulder Lake Hike is a secluded trail hidden in the High Sierra that wanders through dense woodlands before opening to the alpine pool flanked by the craggy cliffs of Boulder Peak.
  6. Hyatt Lake Trail - The Hyatt Lake Trail is an incredible hike through unique terrains. Put your navigational skills to the test as you venture the unmarked granite landscape to the picture-perfect granite basin. If you are seeking an exciting excursion, this is the perfect adventure for you.
  7. Arnold Rim Trail - Leading hikers through diverse topographies, the Arnold Rim Trail provides a stimulating experience. Ideal for intermediate adventurers, this trail travels through a forest of cedar, pine, fir, and oak to the cascading waterfall.
  8. Cleo’s Bath Hike - Hike up to a hidden swimming hole on the Stanislaus River along the Cleo’s Bath Hike. This scenic excursion travels along the shoreline of Pinecrest Lake before escaping into the river valley.
  9. Calaveras North Grove Trail - Explore the Calaveras Big Trees State Park as you venture the family-friendly Calavera North Grove Trail. This amazing nature walk guides adventures through a sea of giant sequoias. This grove is amongst the most secluded and underrated in the state– dance atop the stump of the largest known sequoia!
  10. Calaveras South Grove Trail - The Calaveras South Grove Trail is another impressive adventure through a grove of giant sequoias. This adventure boasts incredible views of the impressive conifers that adorn the landscape.

When is the Best Time to Visit the Stanislaus National Forest?

The Stanislaus National Forest is a wonderful wilderness area that can be enjoyed year-round. Both the summer and winter months offer numerous outdoor pursuits to partake in, satisfying adventurers of all calibers. Though accessible and lively year-round, the summer is undoubtedly the most popular time of the year to visit the Stanislaus National Forest.

The warmer months boast incredible hiking as the vegetation is lush, wildflowers have bloomed, snowmelt streams surge, and most of the high-altitude trails are clear of snow! Offering favorable hiking conditions, the summer months warrant a busier, more crowded experience. Winter trips are full of wonderment but also limitations. Many roads become impassable, and campgrounds are closed after snowfall. On the bright side, winter escapes are far more tranquil. Most suggest visiting in the shoulder seasons—spring and autumn— to seize the warmer weather and beat the crowds!

Other Outdoor Activities in the Stanislaus National Forest

Offering an extensive network of routes, the Stanislaus National Forest is obviously a hiker’s paradise—but it is not limited solely to hiking adventures. Decorated with a myriad of alpine lakes, river valleys, snow-capped crests, and lush forestlands, the outdoor pursuits here are abundant!

Water adventures are a popular recreational activity in the warmer months! Whitewater raft or kayak down the Tuolumne River, paddleboard and sun along the shores of the Pinecrest Lake, or fish in the waters of the Highland Lakes. The summer and autumn also see plenty of mountain bikers and off-roaders heading out to explore the backcountry!

When fall turns to winter, and the terrain becomes cloaked in snow, many hiking routes are transformed into wonderful cross-country skiing and snowshoeing tracks for intrepid adventurers to explore. Additionally, there are several snowmobiling routes interspersed throughout the forest and two ski resorts to enjoy: Dodge Ridge and Bear Valley.

No matter the season, no matter the weather, there is an adventure awaiting you in the Stanislaus National Forest, so what are you waiting for?

Frequently Asked Questions About the Stanislaus National Forest

What is the Stanislaus National Forest known for?

The Stanislaus National Forest is most famously known for its natural beauty—from looming crests to alpine lakes and lush forestlands.

Are dogs allowed in the Stanislaus National Forest?

Yes, dogs on leash are allowed on most developed recreation sites and trails. Refer to the bulletins at the trailhead and lakes for restrictions and posted instructions.

Do you need a pass to visit the Stanislaus National Forest?

Day entry into the Stanislaus National Forest is free, but all overnight expeditions require a wilderness permit.

When is the Stanislaus National Forest open?

The Stanislaus National Forest is open year-round, but many main roads and campgrounds close seasonally from December to April.

Can you swim in Pinecrest Lake?

Yes, Pinecrest Lake, within the Stanislaus National Forest, is a popular spot for swimming.

Epic Adventure Tours in the Stanislaus National Forest

Unfortunately, we have yet to organize an adventure package for the Stanislaus National Forest but keep an eye out as we are always working on adding more exciting tours to the collection! Until then, we urge you to check out our Sierra Nevada Tours, which include awesome expeditions into the High Sierra.

Find Other Amazing Hiking Regions in California

The Stanislaus National Forest is a beautiful landscape characterized by soaring mountains, alpine lakes, lush forests, granite gardens, and serrated river valleys. Covering 898,099 acres of wilderness at various altitudes- from 1,500 ft to over 11,000 ft- the area’s topographic diversity offers an incredible natural playground. Located along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada between Lake Tahoe and the Yosemite National Forest, the Stanislaus National Forest boasts a more sequestered but equally beautiful experience in California.

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Best Hikes in Stanislaus National Forest

Open details for Kennedy Meadows to Relief Reservoir Trail

Kennedy Meadows to Relief Reservoir Trail

Moderate
9.8 km
418 m
3-4h

The Kennedy Meadows to Relief Reservoir Trail is arguably one of the most scenic adventures in the Stanislaus National Forest. Wander past several waterfalls, natural pools, and granite rock formations to the reservoir and dam. Though we will do our best to depict the beauty of this route, we can’t do it justice, as hard as we try!

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Open details for Highland Lakes Loop

Highland Lakes Loop

Easy
4.7 km
207 m
1.5-2h

Indulge yourself in mesmerizing views of the high country along the Highland Lakes Loop. Secluded and scenic, this route offers an unparalleled experience in the Stanislaus National Forest. Wander atop a craggy peak before meandering along the shores of the alpine lakes.

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Open details for God’s Bath Clavey River Trail

God’s Bath Clavey River Trail

Moderate
1.4 km
38 m
0.5h

Hidden local gem turned popular tourist destination—the God’s Bath Clavey River Trail is an incredible adventure in the Stanislaus National Forest. Though there is no explicit trail to the swimming hole and waterfall, there is a local worn path leading to God’s Bath. This epic expedition is a must add to your hiking itinerary—but we beg you to please respect the area and wilderness.

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Open details for Lake Alpine Trail

Lake Alpine Trail

Easy
2.3 km
20 m
0.5h

Hidden high in the Sierra Nevada is the Lake Alpine Trail. This fun family adventure boasts beautiful scenes of the shimmering alpine lake, bounding verdant forestland, and imposing granite peaks. Incredibly scenic and versatile—this walk is a must-add to your Stanislaus National Forest itinerary.

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Open details for Boulder Lake Hike

Boulder Lake Hike

Moderate
12.6 km
553 m
3.5-5.5h

Exhibiting the grandeur and beauty of the high country, exploring the Boulder Lake Hike boasts an exceptional experience. Traveling deep into the wilderness, this route will overwhelm you with picture-perfect scenes of the alpine landscape.

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Open details for Hyatt Lake Trail

Hyatt Lake Trail

Hard
17.7 km
846 m
5.5-7.5h

The Hyatt Lake Hike is an epic off-trail adventure in the Stanislaus National Forest. The unique granite topography and expansive alpine views offer an unparalleled experience. If you seek an exciting excursion through the high country, then you have come to the right place.

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Open details for Arnold Rim Trail

Arnold Rim Trail

Moderate
12.7 km
442 m
3.5-5h

Leading you through diverse topographies, boasting incredible scenes, and a good workout, the Arnold Rim Trail is an incredible route within the Stanislaus National Park. This awesome day hike has lots to offer—from high rocky headlands, wildlife, and a mesmerizing waterfall. Enjoy!

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Open details for Cleo’s Bath Hike

Cleo’s Bath Hike

Moderate
12.1 km
257 m
3-4h

The Cleo’s Bath Hike is an awesome alpine adventure that can be enjoyed by intermediate hikers and families with older children. Leading explorers along the shoreline of Pinecrest Lake, this route opens to the granite river valley, wonderful wading pool, and waterfall. This trail offers an unparalleled experience in the Stanislaus National Forest.

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Open details for Calaveras South Grove Trail

Calaveras South Grove Trail

Easy
7.9 km
230 m
2-3h

A trip to the Calaveras Big Trees State Park is well worth the detour. Located in the Stanislaus National Forest, the Calaveras South Grove Trail is an enchanting nature walk, unparalleled in its beauty. Explore the grove chock-full of ancient giant sequoias and marvel in their grandeur.

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Open details for Calaveras North Grove Trail

Calaveras North Grove Trail

Very Easy
2.7 km
28 m
0.5-1h

The Calaveras Big Trees State Park is undoubtedly one of the most underrated adventure destinations in the Stanislaus National Forest. Located within the park is the Calaveras North Grove Trail, a family-friendly nature walk beneath the shade of the looming sequoias. This impressive trek is a must-add to your hiking itinerary—trust us.

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